How To Combat A Muay Thai Striker In MMA

It is no secret that Muay Thai strikers possess a potency which other traditional strikers in a mixed martial arts environment do not. Having learned to utilize each aspect of the “art of the eight limbs”, those trained in Muay Thai represent a tricky conundrum for a fighter to work out.

It is the variety and effectiveness of the striking of a Muay Thai trained fighter in MMA which poses problems. A ruthless and efficient combination of strikes which are far from linear and hard to predict makes the style of Thailand’s national sport a mainstay in MMA gyms across the globe. In the major MMA promotions, such as the UFC, ONE Championship, and Bellator, there have been many dominant champions who based their offense on the fundamental aspects of Muay Thai striking.

Fighters such as Rafael Dos Anjos, Jose Aldo, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, Fabricio Werdum, Renan Barao and many more have exhibited some incredible tools borrowed from Muay Thai. Although all these fighters have Muay Thai training in common, that is not all: every one of these fighters has been beaten inside the cage. This shows that strong Muay Thai skills in MMA do not always guarantee success.


The Dangers Muay Thai Strikers Bring

In order to truly emphasize how dangerous Muay Thai striking is in MMA, comparing those trained in this style with conventional boxer/wrestlers in the sport is a good place to start. A boxer/wrestler will have limited striking abilities, given that the emphasis is on using the fists. A Muay Thai trained striker, on the other hand, has an arsenal of weaponry which is based around using the fists, elbows, knees, shins, and feet.

On paper, there is no competition. Muay Thai strikers – being seasoned in the art of utilizing the full extent of the eight limbs – can attack from multiple angles, and are comfortable fighting from a distance and in close. While they will prefer space, the clinch training they adopt in Muay Thai gyms makes them an incredibly difficult opponent to keep away.

It is the mastering of the space between a master striker and his opponent which can determine his success, too. Low kicks, for example, are one of the absolute tools of any Muay Thai trained fighter inside the cage. These can create space and severely debilitate opponents by taking their legs away. This gives the Muay Thai fighter the advantage of limiting the movement of an opponent, often immobilizing him.

As distance management and the ability to anticipate an opponent’s attacks are important inside the cage, creating an environment where his attacks are predictable is a wise move. Not only this, but keeping him flat-footed and slow makes him an easy target, especially as the fight goes on. Peppering his body with kicks and punches effectively makes him a sitting duck. The objective moves from competing to simply not getting battered.

Think of how a Komodo dragon incapacitates its prey with a venomous bite, casually walking behind its victim, waiting for the impact of its initial attack to take effect. Its prey’s muscles contract, it can no longer move, and they go in for the kill.

For many boxer/wrestlers, the weight will be on the lead leg. This makes the impact of low kicks even more effective. Jose Aldo’s legendary low kick masterclass against Uriah Faber at WEC 48 in 2010 is the perfect example:


Unpredictable Muay Thai Attacks

Boxer/wrestlers may also find it difficult to deal with the immense variety of strikes which a Muay Thai striker brings to the party. Aside from low kicks, expect to deal with a barrage of roundhouse kicks, switch kicks, elbows, and strikes from inside the clinch. If given the space and time to work their magic, Muay Thai strikers can inflict a nightmare on a fighter not confident enough in dealing with such an abundance of strikes.

Fighters not accustomed to understanding the importance of distance management and control against a Muay Thai striker may find themselves completely overwhelmed. Giving up distance may lead to their legs being taken from under them, and sustained attacks to the body, while rushing too quickly inside will feel like running directly into an airplane propeller, to quote legendary boxing trainer Teddy Atlas.

As previously mentioned, there is always a way to combat Muay Thai strikers in MMA. Unlike pure Muay Thai, there is a ground game in mixed martial arts, which takes away many of the tools which give elite strikers the advantage inside the cage. Understanding that this is one way to disrupting and negating many offensive charges from a striker with such a seasoned catalog of weapons is integral to finding a way of beating them.

Another way to overcome the threat of a Muay Thai specialist (and there is perhaps no better exponent of Muay Thai in MMA than Joanna Jędrzejczyk) is unpredictability, smart movement, and feints.


Disarming the Muay Thai Striker in MMA

The clip above is an almost perfect example of the path you must take in order to successfully disarm the Muay Thai striker in an MMA fight. Rose Namajunas was given little-to-no hope of dethroning the dominant and highly-effective Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Not only did Namajunas beat the previously undefeated Pole, she completely dismantled her with a cerebral style of fighting which was awesome to watch.

Everyone knew the former strawweight champion’s pedigree: 6x Muay Thai World Champion, 14-0 in MMA, with six title defenses and a highlight reel most fighters could only dream of. She was used to having everything go her way until it didn’t. When the incredible muscle memory, razor-sharp reflexes, and lightning jab didn’t give her the advantage in the fight, she shut down. It was as if Namajunas had read the operator’s manual, and meticulously executed the shutdown of the UFC’s golden girl.

“Thug Rose” perfectly demonstrated the kryptonite to her opponent’s game, by adopting discordant movement. Rather than rush straight into Jędrzejczyk’s jab, she feinted. Namajunas stepped forward slowly, forced the then-champ to throw a lead, before delivering a deft low lick and bouncing out of range. The way Namajunas gave the impression she was closer than Jędrzejczyk had thought before countering following the miss was pure class.

The true genius behind the style of Namajunas that night – against a slick and well-rounded Muay Thai striker – was to exude the confidence to completely discombobulate her opponent’s mind. While Jędrzejczyk was busy trying to anticipate the real strike from the feint, internally massaging her ego in the process (no one had ever come close to making her miss so frequently), Namajunas sprung forward with a shot which dropped the champion.

As the fight moved towards the 3-minute mark, the Polish champion was struggling to predict anything in Namajunas’ offense. “Thug Rose” ferried her towards the cage and gave the impression that she would perhaps move in for a takedown. As Namajunas dropped her weight to the left, Jędrzejczyk erroneously anticipated a jab and brought her rear hand forward. Her opponent connected with a deftly executed left hook which put her on the seat of her pants, before dethroning the champ in style, much to the shock of many fans.

In terms of disarming a Muay Thai striker’s arsenal, Namajunas showed just how it should be done.


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